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Is Social Work Still Salient?By Barry-Lee Coyne, MSW Salem-News.com
Social workers contribute greatly to the field of euthenics, an ancient Greek word meaning improvement of social conditions all about us.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Every March marks National Social Work Month across the USA. I have been an active member of this profession since 1974--some 34 years. Yet I continue to be bothered by the phrase itself. Does "social worker" best describe what we are all about? Just what is our mission in society itself?
In the public's mind, our trade is all about helping the "less fortunate". That very often puts us in the box of being soldiers for the "underclass". This usually is shorthand for assisting the poor in society, largely perceived of as ethnic minorities. But this is oversimplification.
The "social" in social work implies outreach to society at large. In our modern age, almost every family has one or more dysfunctional member, whether poor or rich or in between. We call the most conspicuous one the "identified client". Yet finding clearly illustrate that all family members share a piece of the problem. Finger-pointing seldom is a solution.
Every social disruption in one family has a ripple effect on others. We know for a fact that what happens to a kid at home can impact an entire classroom in that kid's behavior.
We are less attuned to the probability that a stressful marriage or parenting situation can send shock waves into the workplace as a secondary result.
Then too, public mental health clinics and hospitals absorb the fallout when stress and trauma are present. The growing cost of therapies and medications are by-products. And even when our consumers are middle-class and taxpayers are not tapped, there are clear consequences. For every high blood pressure dollar spent, for example, that very same dollar is being diverted from some other part of our economy where it might do more good.
Let's look at a few words related to the Social Worker's actual target. We ameliorate social systems. We augment and upgrade the status quo. And we contribute greatly to the field of euthenics, an ancient Greek word meaning improvement of social conditions all about us. I happen to like all three words.
The next time you encounter a Social Worker, call that person an "ameliorator" or a "euthenicist" and notice the surprised look you receive. You'll be helping to enrich our language, and perhaps giving a more apt description to those folks who are committed to helping us attain a better planet than the one we all inherited.
Note: Mr. Coyne is former secretary of the Oregon Chapter, National Assn. of Social Workers, and earlier was part of the Metro DC and NM chapters. His specialties are pain management and family trauma. He currently lives in Salemtowne, Oregon.
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